Many years ago my extended family took a road trip to Disney World when I was a kid. My immediate family (Dad, Mom, myself, and my sister who is seven years younger than I am) lived in Birmingham, Alabama at the time. We met up with my Uncle Maury, Aunt Vickie, and cousin Marissa in Orlando, Florida. My Aunt Vickie commented with some degree of wonder that neither my little sister or I seemed scared in the Haunted Mansion. We just stared and gave a few giggles of delight at the grim grinning ghoul animatronics and projections. Aunt Vickie also noted that I was oddly quiet on the infamously daunting roller coaster in the dark, Space Mountain. My sister and I weren't scared by manufactured chills or thrills, but we were afraid of real world threats to our safety.
|Hitchhiking ghosts from Disney's Haunted Mansion
I currently live in a seventy year old house in central Austin. When Chad and I first moved into our home sixteen years ago, Dr. Blackstock, an older man from across the street (now deceased) would chat with me whenever he saw me out front working in the yard. He spun yarns of how our house was once hit by a car during a police chase with suspected bank robbers. He said that's why some previous homeowners built the limestone facade planters on the front of our house. If another car hits the house, then the car will be damaged worse than the house. Dr. Blackstock also pointed out a few of the BB gun pellet holes in the original windows on our house, reminiscing about how his children (now grown, middle-aged adults) staged grand battles with the children who lived here back in the day. (Those original windows now replaced by fancier energy efficient, double pane windows.) When botanical surprises would spring from the ground, Dr. Blackstock told me that at one point in the 1990s our home was occupied by owners of the local plant nursery, and how amazing it looked when everything was in bloom.
Also when we first bought our home, an older lady would sometimes loiter in a car out on the curb. We guessed that the person driving her was her daughter or some younger relative. The older lady would lean out the passenger window, and tell us how her husband poured the concrete path, and poured the concrete for the posts of the laundry lines in the backyard. She asked wistfully if they were still there. The laundry lines are long gone, but (much to our unspoken chagrin) yes, that concrete is still back there, even today. We invited the lady in a few times, but she always declined. I think she just wanted to see the old place still standing and have her memories. We haven't seen her or her younger driver in about twelve years.
Time and progress march on. Chad and I have witnessed cozy old homes around us demolished to make way for five bedroom, five bathroom, McMansions. We have suffered through years of construction dust and noise as the old state property across the four lane street from our corner lot is developed into urban infill, mixed use property. I admit that the paved walking trail and manicured landscaping around the large retention pond is beautiful with multi-acred rolling hills of lawn and grand old Oak trees undisturbed. The giant homes, multi-story apartments, and multi-story parking garages for the tall office buildings are less so beautiful, but very modern and shiny-new.
A pedestrian crosswalk with traffic signal now occupies the sidewalk right outside our windows. Most pedestrians stick to the sidewalk, but the occasional person cuts through our front yard. I don't mind the people who walk on the grass, but I do sigh with frustration at the careless oafs who step on our planter bed flowering plants and kick the river rocks from our planter beds into the street. These defiantly destructive people broadcast a sense of bowed-up, come-at-me, looking-for-a-fight, danger. And they're literally in our front yard.
Late each night between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM I take out the trash, and visit with our outdoor cat, Sabrina. I bring Sabrina more food and sit on the front steps to brush her soft shiny ebony fur. Sabrina and I look at the sky, and listen to other critters (bats, owls, opossum, raccoons, and the occasional coyote) going about their nocturnal business. Usually the human pedestrian and automobile traffic is less present by this time of night. But a few nights ago, around midnight, Sabrina and I heard a masculine human voice. The utterances sounded far away, and were undecipherable, except for the word "hey." Sabrina seemed unbothered by the voice, so I stayed with her outside. Every few minutes, the voice sounded as if it was moving closer to our house. Still the only word I could pick out was "hey" among the other vocalizations. I reached a point where the voice sounded too close, and kind of eerily insistent, but I didn't see any person. Sabrina purred at my feet and leaned on my legs, desiring more brushing. I whispered to her, "Sorry, babe, but I'm scared. I'm going inside. You stay safe."
If I could be sure that this disembodied voice belonged to a ghost, I would have stayed put with Sabrina. I was honestly more afraid and more certain that the voice belonged to a living person. Maybe someone inebriated, or desperate, or confused, or maybe someone with bad intentions. Living in this sweet little old house, in the center of a rapidly growing city, I'm not scared of the ghosts of what was. I'm much more afraid of the physical realities of what is, and what is to come.